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<nettime> Theatre as Suspended Space
andrew garton [c2o] on 25 Aug 2000 14:55:43 -0000

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<nettime> Theatre as Suspended Space

[Theatre as Suspended Space was presented as a performance lecture at the
Institut für Theaterwissenschaft, University of Wien, Austria, 21 March

The lecture opened with a spoken word piece penned by Sydney writer, David
Nerlich, entitled, With a Will. Three short films (Puppenhead, David Cox; 
Shift, John Power; Autarky, Kim Bounds) were shown during the course of
the lecture.]

Theatre as Suspended Space

By Andrew Garton (21 March 1997)


"The mind believes what it sees and does what it believes; that is the
secret of fascination... Yet conditions must be found to give birth to a
spectacle that can fascinate the mind." Antonin Artaud, 1938. 

___Preparation Notes

The lecture room at the Institut für Theaterwissenschaft was rearranged in
a way that was uncommon for the students. The seats were arranged in a
semi-circle facing the front of the room (see Fig.1). Students would
normally be seated behind desks. 

Tables were placed on top of each other (see Fig. 2) and the windows were
covered with heavy cloth which was taped back to prevent any light from
entering the room. The lights were turned off and the students were then
allowed to enter. 

The idea was to create a space they were unfamiliar with within the room
they generally take their lectures in. As they entered the room I was
huddled on the floor, a pair of black buckets outstretched on either side
of me in my hands. When the students were seated, the door was closed and
no entry to the room was permitted to late comers until the performance
component of the lecture was completed. 

When the room had settled I leapt up off the floor, and using the buckets
as a kind of amplifier, performed With a Will, a powerful lyric penned by
Sydney writer, David Nerlich. Two assistants were on either side of the
room with torches in each of their hands. These were flashed randomly
across the room. At least one torch would track my face for the duration
of the performance (see Fig. 3). 

Fig. 1 Lecture room rearranged.  Fig. 2 Tables stacked.  Fig. 3 Torches
used as only light source. 

___1. Introduction

The 1980's introduced a variety of new management techniques to ensure
success, high productivity and quality work environments and relationships
between staff and their peers. One such technique, popularised in the
1990's is the suspension of assumption. It requires of managers to
withhold their pre-conditioned beliefs when in a dynamic relationship,
often a one-to-one communication, with another employee. The technique
enabled management to better understand their staff and to facilitate more
effectively the day to day operations of the work-place. It created a
break-down of stereo-typical management structures and offered an
opportunity for new relationships and systems to be developed and
re-developed with the employee as collaborator and/or contributor towards
this process. 

Theatre as suspended space offers a similar process. It works towards
disengaging both audience and performer from traditional forms of theatre
and its production, towards a spatial poetry,1an exploration of
environment, gesture, communication and global universality in a world
quickly closing in on itself. Moreover, it is about reclamation of public
space, both traditional and emergent environments. Perhaps a rekindling of
what the author Russell Hoban describes in his novel, Ridley Walker, as
"first knowledge." 

Given that we have access to theatres and the means with which to produce
live works in countless ways, why a suspended space, why reclaim what [we
perceive] already exists?

That which exists, is not for the changing. It is for the maintenance of a
social order steeped in the absolute denial and prohibition of free
expression - that which liberates the imagination and a discovery of its
inert spiritual and creative capabilities. 

___2. Theatre Commodified

The history of modern society is not short of examples of the co-option by
the social elite of performance, ritual, theatre and music and the
prohibition of these activities in public spaces. They did so in order to
sustain a social order enabling them to gain the economic advantage and
ensure the populace was cultivated for the machinations of this order.2 As
early as the Roman Empire the castration of public spectacle via theatre
was evident. The High Pontiff, Scipio Nasica, had all the theatres in Rome
reduced to rubble. St Augustine, in The City of the Gods, suggested that
theatre induced mysterious changes not only in the minds of individuals
but in the entire nation.3 The Pontiff, wrote St Augustine, "...prohibited
the theatre to prevent a moral pestilence." 

During the Middle Ages the jongleur, both musician (vocalist,
instrumentalist) and entertainer (story-teller, acrobat, mime, etc.) would
travel from village to village and perform privately and publicly. The
jongleurs' income was derived from these performances and their material
was gathered, assimilated and modified from what they heard, what they saw
along the way. They ensured that access to music and theatre remained the
privilege of every social class. They were essential to the social
circulation of information. The jongleur "...was music and the spectacle
of the body. He alone created it, carried it with him, and completely
organised its circulation within society."4

With few exceptions, theatre and music was inseparable from daily life.
The streets of the feudal world were alive with song, dance, mime... an
active theatre that engaged the community. It need not be watched. It was
to be lived. 

Up to the fourteenth century, the jongleur's lifestyle became increasingly
unacceptable; the Church "...accusing [them] of paganism and magical
practises."5 Satirical songs about current events were banned and
jongleurs threatened with imprisonment. As early as 1209, the Church
announced "...that at saints' vigils, there shall not, in the churches, be
any theatre dances, indecent entertainment, gatherings of singers, or
worldly songs, such as to incite the souls of the listeners to sin..."6 In
1212, it required of priests to "...prohibit, under penalty of
excommunication, assemblies for dancing and singing from entering churches
or cemeteries."7
Eventually, the Church secularised music, and the courts of the nobles of
the time distanced music and theatre from the people, buying and/or hiring
jongleurs, monopolising artistic creativity in its many forms. The
jongleurs "...became professionals bound to a single master, domestics,
producers of spectacles exclusively reserved for a minority."8 Theatre
became a commodity. Along with the other arts, it became an essential tool
for the spread of capitalism and the maintenance of power and social
order.  The theatre space became the physical manifestation of this
separation, creating an audience and excluding them from the process of
theatre, transforming what had been the socialisation of information into
a medium that would make people essential to the machinations of exchange,
essential to the spread of capital. The medium is the message, but both
the medium and the message is a lie. 

___3. Make then Forget, make them Believe, and Silence them

Jacques Attali, in Noise, talks of three strategic uses of music by power. 
"...It seems that music is used and produced in the ritual in an attempt
to make people forget the general violence; in another, it is employed to
make people believe in the harmony of the world, that there is order in
exchange and legitimacy in commercial power; and finally, there is one in
which it serves to silence, by mass-producing a deafening, syncretic kind
of music, and censoring all other human voices." 

He goes on to further stress the machinations of three essential zones
towards a social order, "Make people Forget, make them Believe, Silence
them. In all three cases music is a tool of power: of ritual power when it
is a question of making people forget the fear of violence; of
representative power when it is a question of making them believe in order
and harmony; and of bureaucratic power when it is a question of silencing
those who oppose it... When power wants to make people forget, music is
ritual sacrifice, the scapegoat; when it wants them to believe, music is
enactment, representation; when it wants to silence them, it is
reproduced, normalised, repetition." 

Theatre provides power with exactly the same formula for the maintenance
of social order. Music is theatre, theatre is music. The two are
synonymous and perform the same role, within mainstream society. "The mind
believes what it sees and does what it believes..." The messengers of
capital are thorough. Throughout the world it has created, and continues
to create, an audience for its own message. The young that grow up in this
environment are quickly consumed and co-opted into the service of capital.
They cannot rebel against it, against something they have been taught so
thoroughly to believe they want, need, cannot do without. All that
glitters is not gold.  There is no better example of this than in the
phenomenon of Heldenplatz. 

New technologies have long been in use in theatres the world over, but the
use of communication technologies to create new means to increase the
scope of theatre is unique to the 20th Century. As early as 1938, Adolf
Hitler used a primitive public address system in Heldenplatz (Vienna) to
advance the spectacle of his arrival in Austria. He was to write, "Without
the loudspeaker, we would never have conquered Germany."9

Hitler's audience, for the duration of his speech in Heldenplatz, was
literally suspended within an entirely new space. They weren't in the
Heldenplatz as they knew it. They audience were spellbound. They had
probably never before heard a voice amplified, let alone as loud as it
must have been for the time. Although we all know too well the end result
of this manifestation, at the time there was hope, there was security,
there was a future in this spectacle. 

The author John Berger suggests, "There is always a danger that the
relative freedom of art can render it meaningless. Yet it is this same
freedom which allows art, and art alone, to express and preserve the
profoundest expectations of a period [in history]."10 Perhaps it is via a
collapse of the manifestation of capital that the liberation of
imagination and free thought becomes possible. 
___4. Strategic Collapse

The stage in its traditional form, the physical space comprised of
prosarch, rigging, curtain-calls, seating, etc., is under attack. Cubism
rejected the way of seeing; the Futurists attempted to transcend the
doctrines of capitalism, bourgeois individuality and utilitarianism. 
"Cubism and Futurism," wrote Kasimir Malevich in 1921, "were the
revolutionary forms in art, foreshadowing the revolution in political and
economic life of 1917." In 1914 Apollinare wrote: 

	Where then is my youth fallen
	You see the future ablaze
	I speak today you must know
	To tell all the world
	That the art of prophecy is born at last

As capitalism was settling in for the forthcoming century, artists
throughout Europe were gaining ground in their pursuit for new forms of
expression. They would deconstruct the art and function of representation
and challenge the status quo with a critique that established the avant
garde, seeking to make the fringe and experimental arts essential to the
free-flow of imagination, "...revealing new, more open and more complex
possibilities."11 The 20th Century also brought with it the ability to
transform theatre to the screen and, more recently, on to the Internet.
The collapse may not be strategically orchestrated, but the challenge set
by Artaud is most certainly being met. 

___5. The Space of Change

Traditionally, the performing arts is comprised of three essential
components - the performer, the audience, the stage. The performer engages
the attention of the audience; the audience observes and responds to the
gestures and prose articulated by the performer; the stage provides a
formal structure within which the relationship between performer and
audience is cultivated and sustained. Separation from the creative process
is perpetuated whilst the stage imposes its own criteria upon it. This is
rapidly changing. 

The concept ot suspending assumption, or belief, within the context of
theatre and the stage is found in the idea of the suspended space. Nowhere
is it more explored than in the interconnections of communication and
information media, like a spider on caffeine, frantically encircling the

Both the computer and the modem have given artists the means with which to
explore entirely new spaces (space suspended in a notion of time we have
yet to fully come to grasp), virtual constructs, and, of course, the

The concept of an Internet theatre was probably best introduced into the
world by The Hamnet Players. In December 1993 they created a
"participatory performance"12 with a production of Hamnet, an 80-line
version of Hamlet.  The first of several productions, Hamnet consisted of
actors from London, Tel Aviv, Durban, Slovenia and Oslo. Many other
regions were represented including the USA. 

The Hamnet Players had developed their new theatre with the use of
Internet Relay Chat, a text based facility generally used for
communication between interest groups in real-time. Since Hamnet, the
Players produced another five Internet based theatrical productions, the
more recent being, an IRC channel named #desire, an adaptation of a play
from playwright Tennessee Williams. 

The performance artist, Stelarc, is no stranger to the suspended space. 
Describing himself as an artist interested in "alternate aesthetic
strategies," Stelarc uses medical, robotic and virtual reality systems to
"explore, extend and enhance the body's performance parameters."13 Within
his suspended space he has "developed strategies to augment its
capabilities, interfacing the body with prosthetics and computer

In 1995, Stelarc began working on a touch-screen interface for remote
access and actuation of the body. STIMBOD enabled users in different
locations to create a sequence of motions which could be replayed
continuously or choreographed in real-time. It was also "possible to paste
sequences together from a library of gesture icons."14

The performance, Split Body - Voltage In/Voltage Out, was performed in
November 1995, linking Luxembourg (Telepolis) with Paris (the Pompidou
Centre), Helsinki (The Media Lab) and Amsterdam (Doors of Perception
Conference). Each site was linked via a Web site with which the Internet
audience could "remotely access, view and actuate the body via a
computer-interfaced muscle-stimulation system based at the main
performance site in Luxembourg."15

In 1996 STIMBOD was integrated into the performance, Ping Body. Internet
activity was represented by body movements throughout the performance -
"the body's proprioception and musculature stimulated not by its internal
nervous system but by the external ebb and flow of data."16

Stelarc describes Ping Body as producing "a powerful inversion of the
usual interface of the body to the Net. Instead of collective bodies
determining the operation of the Internet, the collective Internet
activity moves the body. The Internet becomes not merely a mode of
information transmission, but also a transducer, affecting physical

Austrian-based artists Kathy Rae Huffman and Margaret Jahrmann in their
paper, Micronations, discuss the opportunities for artists in establishing
permanent residence in virtual landscape. "Artists are often the first to
move into new psychological territory, and have been known to establish
fashionable trends and lifestyles. It is common knowledge that geophysical
realities are ambiguous, and political boundaries are subject to change,
depending on national interests and economic strategies... Accordingly,
artists have been quick to grasp real estate opportunities in the virtual
landscape. Artists States and Virtual Republics give new economic
potential and personal freedom not only for artists, but for everyone, and
they offer a practical solution to real problems, too." 17

As of late 1996, artists states in existence are: Virtual Embassy NSK
(Neue Slowenische Kunst); Refugee Republic (Ingo Guenther); RR bei T0;
West Bank Industries; Nomad Territories; Invisible Embassy of Seborga. 

The composer Tod Machover and the MIT Media Lab's, The Brain Opera,
premiered at the Lincoln Center Summer Festival in New York, from July 23,
1996. Described as "an all-encompassing emotional and psychological
experience" both the online and live audience were able to participate in
the evolution of the opera. Although the success of the Brain Opera
process was difficult to gauge, it was clear there was an attempt to
redefine the traditional notions of opera and of the performance space. It
would draw its audience "into the mysteries of music and the human mind,
to discover and explore the interplay of sensory perception, musical
structure, language, memory, thinking and emotion, and actively take part
in creating a multimedia work of art in which the composer's musical
concepts will be enhanced and transformed by material emerging from the
individual and collective contributions of the audience."18

In Austria, Kis Productions have been developing a re-interpretation of
Homer's Odyssey, Oudeis - a world wide odyssey.19 It is proposed that
seven stages, in different locations around the world, will provide for a
real actor to not only perform, but interact with his virtual counterparts
via the Internet. The Internet is being utilised as a kind of contemporary
metaphor for the Odyssey with the suspended space as both stage and map of
this exotic new terrain. Oudeis will be premiered at the 1997 Ars
Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria. 

I have been producing two net-based performance installations, the web
opera Ausländer und Staatenlose and The Sensorium. 

Ausländer und Staatenlose is comprised of an interrelated series of
images, sounds and text viewed in real-time over the Internet. A live
performance will be networked to various locations including the Ars
Electronica centre in November 1997. The score is totally generative
meaning that it may never be heard the same twice.

The Sensorium, the culmination of several projects, is a living multimedia
space, an immersive hyper-reality space evolving out of real-time events
processed into an ever mutating experience. Three Sensorium projects have
been produced, one of which, Sensorium Connect, is a radio-Internet
composition which will be broadcast simultaneously on national radio in
Australia and over the Internet. The piece will remain accessible via a
Web site as a mutating soundscape, re-generating itself twenty-four hours
a day, seven days a week for up to four months. 

The Sensorium is proposed as a definitive theatre as suspended space and
space as instrument. The audience, upon entering The Sensorium will,
immediately be integrated within the space. Their mere presence will add
to the evolution of the space, its visual and aural components,
diminishing further the separation between audience and

___6. Space of Change

Theatre is undoubtably changing, as are many other traditional arts
practices. The Internet and computers in general are influencing the work
of artists the world over. It is a time of enriching exploration and
discovery that is akin to the period during which Francesco Pierro was to
discover perspective and the body's relationship to space.

Theatre is changing. Not before our eyes, but in our perception of its
traditional physical space. It is a participatory change. Reading this
paper contributes to the process, engaging the space, whether you
participate via the Internet, or never have anything to do with computers. 

 The suspended space is expanding and the physical world as we believe we
know will change. The distance between audience and performer is fast
becoming reclaimed physical space. We are all engaged in the space of
change, "giving birth to a spectacle [to] fascinate the mind." 

___7. Postscript

In section (5), The Space of Change, I refer to the proposed performance
of Ausländer und Staatenlose at the 1997 Ars Electronica Festival. At the
97 Festival, components of the online version of Ausländer were developed
as a project in residence. A live, networked performance for KunstRadio
and Ars Electronica '97, Future Malaise | Unsound was performed between
participants at Toy Satellite (Kim Bounds and Dale Nason) in Melbourne,
and myself in Linz, Austria. 

The Sensorium was not produced as an Ars Electronica project for 1998,
however all but one of the Sensorium projects had been completed. See
[online] http://www.toysatellite.com.au/sensorium/ [Accessed July 2000]
for more information. 

Reading this paper now one may not be wrong in thinking that I'd been
writing in a vacuum. You have to remember that it was written early 1997. 
Within three and a-half years there's been an unprecedented increase in
technological breakthroughs in communications, many of which artists are
embracing world-wide. The Internet alone has seen advances in compression
technologies for audio and video streaming, more robust browser
capabilities and some attempts at more consistent Web publishing

There's so much enthusiasm for networked event streaming that in some
places it's become second nature. In concert with these developments must
come the industry back-lash, power exerting its control over the new
mediums of expression and independent distribution. 

As I write this hundreds of articles and thousands of emails are being
posted throughout the Internet in response to the US Court ruling on the
lawsuit filed by the RIAA20 against Napster21. Napster is a file sharing
tool that has encouraged up to 20 million people to download, run and
retrieve MP3 audio files stored on servers the world over. On the grounds
that Napster had "created a safe haven for Internet music piracy"22 it was
ordered to halt the use of its file sharing service.

Once more we see, almost copy-book like, a dominant, economically powerful
elite attempt to control the flow of creative endeavor between artist and
audience. Record companies want to maintain their control on distribution. 
Control the distribution and you control the market place, right down to
what people will listen to and where and how they will buy it. Artists
don't have access to these systems unless they agree to sell, not license,
the rights to their music to these companies.

"The present system keeps artists from finding an audience because it has
too many artificial scarcities..." says singer/songwriter Courtney Love. 
"....limited radio promotion, limited bin space in stores and a limited
number of spots on the record company roster."23 I can hear reverberations
of Hitler's admission, "Without the loudspeaker, we would have never

As I append this postscript the Australian Federal Government announces
that audio and video streaming will not be regarded as broadcasting after
its extensive review of the medium.24 Streaming initiatives may be
maintained without the burden of legislation and licensing that comes with
the responsibility of being a broadcaster as identified in Broadcasting
Services Act. As one Internet media is legislated against, another is
given reprieve.

And as I bring this document to a close I receive a call from a local
charity requesting donations, and another offering raffle tickets... 
Australian Aboriginal communities are planning to march on the Olympics
and the World Trade Forum will no doubt be greeted with trajectories of
dissent when it meets in Melbourne on September 11... I am also aware of
the chasm this paper will be consumed by, this insignificant and yet
personal contribution to the malaise and contradictions in this ever
unfolding space of change. 


1 Artaud, A 1935, The Theatre and its Double, Calder & Boyers, ISBN
2 Attali, J 1977, Noise, University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0-8166-1286-2.
3 Artaud, A 1935, The Theatre and its Double, Calder & Boyers, SBN
4 Attali, J 1977, Noise, University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0-8166-1286-2.
5 Attali, J 1977, Noise, University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0-8166-1286-2.
6 Council of Avignon, 1209.
7 Council of Paris, 1212.
8 Attali, J 1977, Noise, University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0-8166-1286-2.
9 Hitler, A 1938, Manual of German Radio.
10 Berger, J 1969, Art and Revolution, Granta Books, ISBN 1-3579-10-8642.
11 Berger, J 1969, Art and Revolution, Granta Books, ISBN 1-3579-10-8642.
12 The Hamnet Players 1996, About the Hamnet Players, [online]
http://www.sandiego.com/hamnet/ [Accessed 1996].
13 Stelarc 1996, Biography, [online]
http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/biog/biog.html [Accessed July 2000].
14 Stelarc 1995, Spilt Body - Voltage In/Voltage Out, [online]
http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/stimbod/stimbod.html [Accessed July 2000].
15 Stelarc 1995, Spilt Body - Voltage In/Voltage Out, [online]
http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/stimbod/stimbod.html [Accessed July 2000].
16 Stelarc 1996, Ping Body, [online] http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/pingbody/
[Accessed July 2000].
17 Huffman, K, Jahrmann, M 1997, Micronations, Pop~TARTS, [online]
http://www.heise.de/tp/deutsch/pop/topic_1/4020/1.html [Accessed July 2000].
18 Machover, T 1996, The Brain Opera, [online]
http://brainop.media.mit.edu/text-site/big.html [Accessed July 2000].
19 Kis Prod. 1997, Oudeis - a  web odyssey, [online]
http://iguwnext.tuwien.ac.at/~oudeis [Accessed 1997].
20 Record Industry Association of America.
21 Napster, [online] http://www.napster.com [Accessed 27 July 2000].
22 King, B 2000, Napster's File-Trading No More, Wired News, [online]
http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,37558,00.html [Accessed 28 July
23 Love, C 2000, Courtney Love does the math, Salon.com tech, [online]
http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/06/14/love/index2.html [Accessed 28
July 2000].
24 Alston, R 2000, Video and Audio Streaming, DCITA Media Release, [online]
ewsroom [Accessed 28 July 2000].

 - Community Communications Online       | Andrew Garton
 - PO Box 304                            | agarton {AT} c2o.org
 - Richmond 3121 Victoria AUSTRALIA      | http://www.c2o.org
 - Tel/Fax. +61 3 9486 9765
 - ABN. 33 078 575 238

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